In which an ink cloud blots out the stars, the visual designers of the episode were clearly high, and I waste a Star Wars joke.
McCoy is wearing the shiniest shirt I’ve ever seen, and there’s something weird going on with the aspect ratio here, but I guess that’s not the point of the episode. Instead, Spock gets an impression that the Intrepid, crewed entirely by Vulcans, died. As if four hundred voices cried out and were suddenly silenced. I happen to be watching this one on May the Fourth (be with you). Moments later, the Enterprise gets an order to go investigate the system in question, which is now simply dead.
Also, Spock gets to make a speech about how humanity sucks because we’re bad at understanding a lot of death at once. The implication seems to be that Vulcan history was less violent than Human. Which is odd, because Vulcan history was so violent that they had to run away from any and all emotion not to kill each other off. There is, in fact, a fundamental alienness to a species that is both capable of keenly feeling hundreds of deaths and at the same time incorporating fights to the death in a mating ritual as a sop to tradition.
Anyway, the Problem of the Week appears to be a big black hole in space. (But not a Black Hole. Just a black hole. With me?) It ate a star system and is yelling through the probe they launched into it. Feedback or something, and very unpleasant. Some sort of binaural beat that’s making people faint all over the ship.
You’d think after all this time, Kirk would know better than to ask Spock for a guess. All we know about the object is that it’s not solid, liquid gaseous, but the ship can detect its existence and automatically raise shields. And it appears to be affecting everyone on the ship, but at differing rates. Uhura nearly fainted immediately, others are only starting to show signs of illness. As the ship approaches the cloud, it yess and then eats them.
The wild shot-in-the-dark guess (that Spock never does) is that there’s some energy source which precludes human life. It’s extremely hard to imagine how he could possibly know that. Sometimes Trek does a really awful job of showing the viewer the evidence for the deductive leaps. Even Data shows his work better than Spock.
Inside the cloud, it appears that the engines are working in reverse. The Enterprise is being drawn forward, but applying forward thrust is slowing them down. All mechanics appear reversed and biological processes are stopping.
The key here is that the Vulcan ship, crewed by rigidly, dogmatically logical people, would be incapable of snapping themselves out of a hopeless mode. Again, there’s a difference here noted between Vulcan logic and actual rationality. Spock indicates that the Vulcans would be stuck beating their heads against a metaphorical wall as they died, but that’s not logic, that’s insanity. Good thing, I suppose, that the core is hoving into view and the Enterprise can start Sciencing at the root cause of the problem.
Okay, seriously. It looks like some sort of single-celled organism, but as it moves across the screen there are some interesting topographical effects. It’s 11,000 miles long and is, in fact, a space amoeba. Made of, like, dark matter or some bullshit. Who knows.
Oh good, they’re contemplating sending a shuttlecraft. The Galileo is never the center of a disaster whenever it’s used. Spock and McCoy fight over who gets to go. It’s Spock because something something proving Vulcans are better but not good enough, something something something human intuition. Then again, when he goes into the amoeba the turbulence would have killed a human, so whatcha gonna do?
Somehow they can tell that the space amoeba has enough energy to start mitosis, and is sucking energy out of the shuttlecraft and Spock, to the point where he’s being petty at McCoy. Good thing McCoy is left on board, though. He’s thinking of it in biological terms. There’s a trope made famous by Star Trek – explaining a process in extraordinarily complex terms and then again in super duper simple words, to fool the audience into thinking that the treknobabble made sense. This is one of those times. Something about antibodies, as if using the word is going to help the ship survive being sucked into the amoeba.
Okay, I guess it is. So now that they’re inside, they’re going to use ‘anti-power’ by shoving antimatter into the nucleus. Sigh. That’s really not how antimatter works. But thanks, “The Alternative Factor.” Thanks for nothing. Still, once they’re inside the amoeba, all of the engines work properly. Because plot.
The question we are left with is where did this thing come from and are there any more of them. The Enterprise managed to destroy this one by planting antimatter right in the nucleus, but in order to cause climactic tension, it was really hard to do. How exactly are they supposed to manage the next one?